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Lady Mary Colton was the Mayoress of the City of Adelaide from 1874-1875. 

Early life

Mary Colton was born on 6 December 1822 in London. She was the eldest of three children of Samuel Cutting, bookmaker, and his wife Hannah.

In 1839 Mary accompanied her widowed father, her brother and sister to Adelaide. On 3 December 1844 she married Sir John Colton, saddler and hardware merchant at Trinity Church.

John was born on 23 September 1823 at Herbertonford, Devonshire, England. He migrated to South Australia with his parents and four brothers; they arrived in Adelaide on 19 December, 1839.

Contributions and achievements

Committed Methodists, the couple attended Gawler Place Wesleyan Chapel, and from 1851 its Pirie Street successor. Mary was one of Adelaide’s earliest Sunday School teachers, continuing her classes for girls and young women for over fifty years.

The marriage was a happy one, and on 4 December 1894, Mary and John celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at their home, Alma House, in Hackney, Adelaide.

Mary gave birth to nine children, some of whom died in infancy; her last child was born in 1865.

Colton’s leadership in the city’s commercial circles led to his election in 1859 as alderman for Grey ward in they Adelaide City Council; he served as Mayor in 1874-75. During his incumbency in that office, he was also a Minister of the Crown, a unique experience so far as South Australia is concerned.

The couple entertained generously in their Hackney home on the city’s perimeter. Mary was serene, ‘sunshiny’ and hospitable.

In 1891 John Colton was awarded KCMG. He died on 6 February 1902.

Community contributions and Involvement

Mary Colton was a tireless worker in twenty-two church and secular organisations. She served on the committees of the Boarding-Out Society  and the State Children’s Council, which supervised the care of neglected and delinquent children, the ladies’ committees of the Servants’ Home, for immigrants and others seeking employment, and the South Australian Female Refuge. 

She became President of the ladies’ division of the Social Purity Society which, to reduce child prostitution, campaigned to have the age of consent raised from twelve to sixteen. 

Mary Colton was equally successful in her work as President of the Women’s Suffrage League, the Weslyan Ladies Mission Auxiliary, and the Adelaide Female Reformatory. She was one of the founders of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital and the Adelaide Young Women’s Christian Associatiom, she worked for many years for both these organisations.

Other areas in which this indomitable woman worked were, the Home for Incurables, the Strangers’ Friend Society, the Maternity Relief Association, ‘blind, deaf an dumb institutions’, and various cottage home organisations.

Lady Colton continued her strenuous activities at the expense of her health during the hot 1897-98. 

By Janet Whitham, HerStory Project

The HerStory project came about to recognise and celebrate the lives and the achievements of Women’s work in South Australia and was initiated in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the City of Adelaide, by Genevieve Theseira-Haese, Lady Mayoress of Adelaide. The stories collected offer a unique perspective of Adelaide and South Australia that form a different history to what is often heard. This community built initiative is supported by the City of Adelaide and the History Trust of South Australia.

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